Is there anything that expresses the Melbourne melange better than a Chinese-Indian-Swedish pizza restaurant? Great Eastern Hakka tells a hemisphere-hopping migration story in quirky, delicious meals.
Owners Alexandra and Steve Liu are descended from Hakka Chinese who settled in Calcutta a century ago. The Chinese-Indian community created a hybrid cuisine of subcontinental spices and Chinese sauces, often in wokked dishes. This exuberant style is enormously popular in India but life for Chinese-Indians wasn't smooth. In the 1980s, Alexandra and Steve moved to Sweden, where they opened their first restaurant.
In 2006, the Lius emigrated to Melbourne, seeking a warmer climate for their young daughter's health conditions. She quickly thrived.
Also good: Asian foods were easier to find than in far-flung Luleo and Melburnians could handle more spice than Swedes.
The Lius wanted a neighbourhood restaurant so they could befriend their customers; Mount Waverley has been a happy choice for their fusion offering.
Swedish pizzas are fascinating. Toppings include kebab meat, fefferoni (pickled green chilli) and creamy dressings. Pickled cabbage is the compulsory side.
Here, Swedish pizza gets a further Indian spin. The Luleo stars thin slices of spice-marinated beef, interspersed with fefferoni and swirled with spicy sauce. Once I shrugged off my Napoli-bound Stockholm syndrome, I settled into how tasty it was.
Hakka-style rockling is stir-fried in a thick, glossy sauce based on a sticky rice ferment that takes Steve's mother, Yu Chiao, 100 days to coax into being.
"Manchurian" dishes are a subset of the cuisine: a ginger, garlic and chilli base is built out with soy sauce to create a sweet, tangy medium for juicy chicken.
Dessert has to be layered Swedish cake with almond meringue and chocolate, a homemade version of Ikea's Daim sweet.
Great Eastern Hakka is modest but smart with comfortable booths. Its very existence is a statement of trust in Melbourne's embrace of difference, and it's been nurtured through 2020's challenges by regulars who refused to let it fail.
Every spicy, saucy bite is a testament to community and that makes it even tastier.
Address 319 Stephensons Road, Mount Waverley, 03 9807 3388, greateasternhakka.com.au
Open Tuesday-Friday noon-3pm; Tuesday-Sunday 5pm-late
Prices Pizza: $13-$38; Mains: $15-$35; Dessert: $5.50-$12
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